From C-C-Cold War Syndrome
President George H. W. Bush had already spoken to the jubilant gathering at the Veterans’ Inaugural Ball and departed for the next such affair on his whirlwind schedule. Ours had been the first of the dozen celebrations at which he would appear following his inauguration earlier that day.
Unfortunately, we’d missed his appearance. According to the schedule printed in the Washington Post, the Veterans’ Ball was supposed to have been the last of these galas he would attend. Naively believing the published agenda, we decided to skip the assembly-line inaugural meal in the ballroom and have dinner downstairs in the hotel’s main dining room where the food was sure to be better. There would be plenty of time after dinner, we thought, to mosey up to the ballroom for dancing and speeches.
The Secret Service ruined our plan by scrambling Bush’s schedule for security reasons. Consequently, we’d have to settle for the remarks of Vice President Dan Quayle, who was due to arrive at midnight.
We were two couples all dressed up and looking for a place to sit. As all the tables around the dance floor were already taken, we brazenly laid claim to four seats at the then vacant head table earlier occupied by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
I noticed some papers lying next to the speaker’s podium. Turned out they were the introductory and prepared remarks for both the president and vice president. Deciding they’d make nice souvenirs, I surreptitiously folded them and slipped them into my fiancée’s dainty handbag. Surely back-up copies existed.
They didn’t. When Quayle spoke, he was forced to do so extemporaneously. Happily the speech he delivered was far better than the prepared one secreted away in Karen’s purse.
However, there was one unfortunate consequence. Quayle spoke about freedom, apparently the theme of his speeches throughout the evening. At one point he said, “Freedom,” then paused and repeated the word for emphasis. When he said it the second time, some woman in the crowd—at the Veterans’ Ball, mind you—shouted out quite disdainfully, “Yeah? Whatta you know about it?” Apparently, she felt he lacked the credentials to address a subject so dear to the hearts of the assembled veterans, many of whom were Medal of Honor recipients.
The rookie vice president, accustomed to hecklers at political speeches, never missed a beat. He responded, “Freedom is what allows us all to express our opinions in public, just as you have.”
He completed his remarks with no further interruption. What’s more, no one even corrected his spelling.
“I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy. But that could change.”
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